Feb 6, 2024

Into the woods

Did you know that trees in the Puget Sound region can be used to make maple syrup? Last week Seabury students in grades 1-5 went on a field study to Mount Rainier Institute in Pack Forest where they learned how researchers tap big leaf maple trees to make syrup. Getting out of the classroom to trek into the forest was a new experience for most of the students, certainly as a large group. Students spent the day in teams that mixed 1st through 5th graders, with the 5th graders helping the other students consider the activities using icons of depth and complexity.
The Mount Rainier Institute at Pack Forest is a University of Washington run research center in Eatonville, where researchers are tapping maple trees to explore the viability of creating maple syrup from them. 

The research teams have developed production facilities and processes that extract the sap from the trees and use a tube system that travels to silos and eventually to a production facility where they have established a process for bottling the syrup. (Due to paperwork the syrup is not for sale.)

The field study involved a 1.5 mile hike to the big leaf maple trees. Along the way the guides explained how to identify maple trees. It's more challenging in winter when no leaves are visible. Did you know that maple trees have symmetrical branches? And that they have horizontal bark? These were some of the identifying traits that guides gave students to help identify trees as we hiked. When students arrived at the tapping forest, they discovered an elaborate tubing system that connected the tapped trees to the storage silos below. It looked something like a ropes course or a string maze. The real excitement came when students had the opportunity to do a “taste test” of five syrups. Could they figure out which was real? As they tried each, students proclaimed things such as:  “That’s fake!" “I know this is the real one!" “This is too liquidy!” They were fascinated to see how, during a blind taste test, it was possible to see, smell, and taste the differences between the artificial, the light and the dark maple syrups. At the end of the day students also got the opportunity to try the maple syrup made at the institute. 

During this visit, students not only learned about the scientific processes involved in the making of syrup but also learned the history of maple syrup and how Indigenous people were the first to discover and use tree sap to make maple syrup. The guides asked students to guess how they initially made the syrup and to the guide's surprise, some Seabury students guessed. (To give you a hint, it involves freezing temperatures) 

The day ended with tired kids and a great experience of being outside, learning about local resources, and creating stronger connections between students of varying grade levels.


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